Sunday, March 19, 2006

Twelve Things Writers Won't Ever Admit To

There are a lot of unspoken aspects of a writer's life---things we don't admit to because it will make us look bad.

Since I gave up scruples for Lent (I also gave up Catholicism), I'll share the things that no one else will share. Here's the list in no particular order:

1. Answering fan mail is a drag. Sure, when we first got started we loved to hear from fans. But after the thousandth letter of someone proclaiming their love, we begin to cut and paste our responses (Thanks so much for writing!) Yes, I know this sounds sucky and ungrateful. But at least I still answer all of my fan mail---lots of big shots have a website moderator do it for them.

2. We hate being edited. Writers will say that they love a good editor, but none of us actually believes the editor knows better. We listen, because we have to, but we think we got it right the first time and that we don't require any rewrites or tweaking. That's why, when we become bestsellers, we refuse to be edited.

3. We think our last book is better than the one that won that award. Even if we weren't on the final ballot. Even if we weren't nominated. Even if we write in an entirely different genre.

4. We don't read every book we blurb. Some writers don't even write the blurbs--they let the author who asked for the blurb write the blurb.

5. We think #1 NYT Bestsellers are crap, and that our own books aren't on the NYT List because we refused to sell out, because our publishing house didn't do enough, or because the readers are stupid. We also resent Oprah, but in public talk about how much she does for the publishing world.

6. We say snide things behind each other's backs. There's gossip, rumor mongering, and pettiness, and we badmouth people that we call our friends. Especially if they are award winners or #1 NYT bestsellers.

7. We envy each other. If an author gets a movie deal, a huge advance, a big tour, a magazine spread, we're incredibly jealous because we feel we deserved it, not them. Then we hide our feelings behind well wishes, and say snide things behind their backs.

8. We all have a martyr complex, believing that writing is an heroic, impossible profession, and that our tremendous intestinal fortitude is the reason we're professionals. That, and our natural talent. Oh yeah, we're also all egomaniacs.

9. We all have a sense of entitlement. We expect to be treated better than the average Joe, to be catered to, to be fawned over. The higher we climb, the more prima donna we become.

10. We're all constantly afraid that the world will realize we're frauds, and it will all be taken away from us. Our careers are precarious, fragile things, and we know this all too well, but we hide that fear behind bluster and bravado and say things like, "That book flopped because the author didn't try hard enough" when we all know that but for the grace of God go I.

11. We blame our publishers, our editors, and our agents, when our careers aren't going well, but take all of the credit when they are going well.

12. We secretly think that 99% of all newbie writers aren't good enough to make it. But we also think that 99% of all professional writers aren't good enough either.

--------------------------------

All of these things don't apply to all writers, but some of these apply to all writers. Even if they vehemently deny it.

And I want to go on the record and say that ABSOLUTELY NONE OF THIS APPLIES TO ME. I'm just relating what I've seen and heard. I'm a kind-hearted, giving writer who loves everybody and everything about this profession.

As far as you know.

Anyone else want to admit to some unpleasantness inherent in this business? Feel free to post anonymously...

45 comments:

Bernita said...

Oh, Joe!
One doesn't even have to be at your level to be victim of # 6, and gawd help someone who's just gotten a contract.
If it operated below the waves, it will be just as bad above.
I'm new to all this but have already seen examples.
The one I relate to most is your "feeling a fraud" number.

Christine said...

OK, I'll admit it... I DO get jealous, I SO wish my name was JK Rowling, and I used to think the Writer Police were going to break down my door at any second and ask me to back away from the keyboard. I've gotten over that feeling. :)

I like being edited - for now. And I also like answering fan mail, but I'm so new that I only get a trickle of e-mail.

I still feel weird when people say "you're a writer? That's so cool." freaks me out a little.

Mark Terry said...

We secretly think that 99% of all newbie writers aren't good enough to make it. But we also think that 99% of all professional writers aren't good enough either.


Afraid so, both parts.

I might add: No matter how good your career seems, you're skating on thin ice because publishers can't be trusted to support you longer than the leftovers in your refrigerator.

Erica Orloff said...

You get great reviews because you deserve them and the occasional bad review becauser the reviewer is jealous or snarky or doesn't get laid enough. And EITHER way, fabulous review or mediocre, it feels as if you are standing naked in the middle of a cocktail party when you read what other people think about your book.

Lauren Baratz-Logsted said...

"We expect to be treated better than the average Joe"

Is this a plug?

jason evans said...

I would say that giving in and wallowing in numbers #1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, and 12 will inexorably lead to #11.

David Terrenoire said...

I'm not competitive, by nature. Never have been. Whether it's writing a book, playing music, or taking my spot on the firing range, I want to do better today than I did yesterday, not just beat the schlub next to me. So the snide envy doesn't really apply.

And I appreciate a good editor.

However, number 10, yeah, that's me all over.

There is one you didn't mention: I know that if you're young, beautiful and reasonably talented, it's easier to get publicity than if you're old, plain and wrinkled.

For the record, I'm not beautiful to anyone but my dogs, and they could be telling me lies for the snacks.

Jude Hardin said...

Am I sensing some disillusionment here, Joe?

Can anyone come up with twelve things they LIKE about the writing business?

This post depresses me.

Lauren Baratz-Logsted said...

12 things I like about the writing business:

1. meeting other writers, even though sometimes it can be disillusioning.

2. working with editors who help me make my work better than it would otherwise be.

3. having total strangers say they liked/laughed/were moved by something I've written.

4. having a good agent after having had five bad (for me) agents.

5. how incredibly supportive I've found plenty of writers to be, some of those writers being very busy/successful people.

6. opening a box of new ARCs and having my daughter scream with glee, "Mommy's books!"

7. getting to express myself and getting paid for it.

8. wondering why in Poland they think the appropriate cover for my first book should be a tarot card and then not caring when I realize, "People are reading me in Polish!"

9. wondering why the Aussie cover of my first book has a cartoonish woman whose uber-pointy breasts look like antennas trying to signal Mars and being grateful my breasts don't look like that.

10. getting to experiment with different genres.

11. reading great blogs like Joe's and feeling as though I belong to the same club he does.

12. WRITING!

Jeri said...

Wow, it's nice to know I'm not evil for thinking (a few) of these same things. Or at least, I'll have damned good company in Writer's Hell. Thanks, Joe!

The one I subscribe to the least is #2. I think bestselling authors who don't let their work be edited are doing themselves and their readers a disservice. A writer is, after all, only one person, and as the author is incapable of reading his or her own work objectively.

I gave up Lent for Lent.

Anonymous said...

Joe -- would you like to be in Dan Brown's shoes right now? Having to go to court about one of his books? No matter if your books sell high or low, there is always someone willing to cut you at the knees. But I figure, just be glad your books are selling at all. At least, you're doing what you love.

Jude Hardin said...

Thanks, Lauren. Beautiful reasons to keep writing.

I'm wondering what part of the male anatomy the Aussies might use to signal Mars with on my book covers.

Alison Kent said...

We don't read every book we blurb.

Not always true. I've refused to do blurbs because I haven't had time to read books (or have used that excuse, i.e., lied, if I didn't like the book).

JA Konrath said...

Mark-- Good one.

Erica--- Great one.

Lauren-- Are you insinuating that I'm anything other than fabulous?

David-- See my reply to Lauren.

Jude-- Isn't 'disillusionment' the same thing as 'seeing things clearly'? No illusions, right?

Needless to say, there are dozens of reasons I love this business.

But I wanted to express that writers are human and shouldn't be put up on pedestals. We're not curing cancer. We're just entertainers. Deification should be for health workers, firemen, spiritual leaders, reformers, and waitresses.

JA Konrath said...

"We don't read every book we blurb."

Yeah, I just turned someone down because I didn't have time. Felt bad.

Lauren Baratz-Logsted said...

"Lauren-- Are you insinuating that I'm anything other than fabulous?"

Not at all. See my own #11. Actually, I think "A Joe better than the average Joe" makes a good tag for you.

Jude Hardin said...

Although "deification" is a misnomer in the extreme (I understand it was meant to be humorous), I proudly stand on my small pedestal as a health care worker. And when I get published, I'll proudly stand on my small pedestal as an author. Don't sell yourself short, Joe. One of the cool things about this blog is that we unpubbed get to interact with one of the elite. Think about back before you were published. Wouldn't it have been cool to have a forum like this? Many of us do put you on a pedestal. Just accept it and love it (I know you do, so quit trying to be so fucking humble).

JA Konrath said...

I'm drunk with power!

Actually, and this may sound strange, but I'm a pretty humble guy. I'm opinionated as all hell, and think I'm right all the time, but I don't think I'm 'better than' if that makes sense.

If anyone is on a power trip, it's Miss Snark. She provides a valuable service, but inspiring fear isn't as effective as encouraging hope.

Mary Stella said...

Jude said:
*One of the cool things about this blog is that we unpubbed get to interact with one of the elite.*

We aren't elite. We just found someone who would pay us to publish our books. You could be one call away from getting published, too.

I love reading blogs by other published authors, but I also enjoy blogs by writers who haven't sold yet.

I'm such a polyanna ostrich. I hate thinking that all of things that Joe described in his list actually happen. (Although I haven't escaped that whole 'feeling like a fraud' experience.)

The list makes me realize how lucky I am to have such a great bunch of friends who don't act that way to each other and I haven't run up against it much in my still young published career. (At least something about me is still young!)

LA Burton said...

I totally agree with number #6. I think that the competion between write especially in the same genera is hazardous. I've seen and been a part of it. The publishing industry is a place where you have to watch your back.

Jim Michael Hansen said...

Joe: I feel sorry for anyone that ends up with more than 2 or 3 of these qualities.

Christine said...

I think I'd love to be in Dan Brown's shoes (wait, he's not wearing really ugly shoes, is he?). Not really the whole 'I'm suing you because you're book is selling better than mine and you stole the idea from me' thing, but... I was at a store, doing a signing last Sat, and the store was capitalizing on the hype. BOTH DVC and Holy Blood, Holy Grail were on the front rack. Many people stopped and picked it up, some even bought.

So yeah, if I'm selling a few hundred thousand extra copies because of the hype, well then...

The two that wrote HB, HG should drop at Dan Brown's feet for making their book so popular.

Anonymous said...

What I hate most is the two-faced writers and success leeches. An unknown author strikes it big and it's so interesting to watch all the success whores gather around like magnetic leeches. Blech!!! It's so shallow and pathetic. Phonies that they are. If that same writer were once again a struggling unknown, they wouldn't pay him/her any mind whatsoever. Saw it most recently with Allison Brennan. Before she hit the times list, it was Allison who? The minute she hit, she's suddenly getting gobble-dobbles of "way to goes" "isn't that great" "can't wait to read your books".

I could wretch just thinking about it!

Barbara W. Klaser said...

Some of these apply to me, others don't.

I'm still at the point where I like fan mail, but there's only so much I can say in response, and I need to be critical of myself even when others aren't.

I have no publisher to blame, but now I want one even more, so I can blame them when things don't go well. ;)

I detest being edited, even when it helps.

I try to only wish people well when I really mean them well. When someone falsely wishes me well I can taste that artificial sweetness, and--ick. Sometimes silence is better, even if I mean someone well.

Envy has been a problem for me since I was four years old. Forty-five years later I'm a little better, but I haven't licked it yet.

I need to think I'm better than most unpublished writers because otherwise there's no hope.

I don't always think my writing is better. Some writers are so good they alternately intimidate and inspire me.

I have a thin skin, and that's a problem in this business. So I pretend to have a thick skin. But I don't.

Phil said...

Well, this is really disappointing. It seems that writers suffer the same frailties and wage battle against the same vices as, well, the rest of humanity.

And here I thought I'd left behind all that human baggage when I became a writer.

SAND STORM said...

To Christine or anyone else that wants to be in DB's shoes.

Plan A Let me know and I'll file a frivolous lawsuit against you.

Plan B We all sue Joe stating that because we've had a drink of Jack Daniels his novels were or could have been our idea....in fact if I remember in a drunken stupor it was I that first thought of it or was that Jackie Walker?

Christine said...

Sand storm - I'm in! We'll all sue Joe and say he made us alcholic writers, because we thought his books were about bartending :)

We'll make a mint! LOL

Jude Hardin said...

Here's a paragraph from one of the novels I'm currently reading, KILL THE MESSENGER by Tami Hoag:

The only single group of people Parker knew who drank as much as cops were writers, all kinds of writers. Screenwriters, novelists, reporters. The nearest watering hole was where the animals gathered to commune and commiserate. As solitary as writers were by nature, they had the particular stresses and paranoias of their work in common. And no matter what the profession, misery consistently loves company.

It seemed appropriate to this discussion.

Anonymous said...

Brand new, the-ink-on-the-contract-isn't-even-dry-my-book-hasn't-been-published-yet-but-everyone-is-just-so-great-i-love-my-editor writers piss me the fuck off. Temper the enthusiasm, kay?

Reenie said...

I’m kinda in the same spot as Mary Stella. I have 1½ unpublished books and enjoy reading what published authors have to say.

#1 doesn’t apply to me. – no fan mail
#2 I’m an odd one. I love getting editing – it’s the only way I can improve. Even odder, I enjoy the challenge of a suggested rewrite.
#3 doesn’t apply to me – no awards
#4 doesn’t make any sense to me.
#5 I cross train with my reading – so I do read a lot of the NY Times Bestsellers, as well as Oprah’s – I dip my toes in lots of genres.
#6 has applied *Sigh* – I’ve said some pretty petty & shitty things. Never again.
#7 But I’ve never been envious – I innately take pleasure in others’ successes.
#8 I don’t buy into the martyrdom thing, but interestingly other people do and project that into my life.
#9 This doesn’t apply to me, but I do tend to treat all published writers like rock stars.
#10 As a writer I do not have that fraud fear, but I am an artist, as well, and have received modest recognition and I CONSTANTLY have this fear that people will find out I am a fraud. I didn’t realize until reading this blog that other creative people had these neurotic thoughts.
#11 doesn’t apply to me since I am still unpublished. Actually I wrote Local Color, which was published in 1998, and was a nonfiction book about Laguna Beach, CA. Its sales were shaky, and yeah, I did blame the publisher come to think of it. #12 I don’t want to believe this.

Given all of this, I recently had a small publishing house request a partial of my manuscript. I’ve had lots of nibbles before, but I am hoping this flies.

Stacey Cochran said...

Our careers are precarious, fragile things, and we know this all too well, but we hide that fear behind bluster and bravado and say things like, "That book flopped because the author didn't try hard enough" when we all know that but for the grace of God go I.

But don't you get to a point eventually after you've written nine novels and have not sold a single one, where it just doesn't even matter any more.

Seriously.

I've probably received between a thousand and two thousand rejections in the past ten years, and I've reached this interesting place in the past 12-24 months, where I've actually begun to realize that "Wow, I may go on to write 15 or 20 novels without managing to get a single one published."

When you really do accept that reality and still you push on, you toughen yourself to a place where hope doesn't exist, and, as such, neither does fragility.

I mean that's what being "hard boiled" is all about, ain't it - as hokey as the phrase seems today.

Am I just completely wrong?

Stacey

Stephen D. Rogers said...

About reading for blurbs-- I think there's an assumption made that writers simply read everything written in their genre, especially books by the writers they'll meet at conferences and signings.

Some authors do read widely. Many simply don't have the time or find the material not to their liking.

Stephen

JA Konrath said...

Temper the enthusiasm, kay?

Bragging, boasting, and implying worthiness is annoying.

Enthusiasm, however, is refreshing.

tambo said...

My big thing isn't on the list. Even with three books under my belt, I'm still struggling with the public nature of what used to be a private activity. It's sort of like stage fright, I guess, and I'm beginning to fear the page. I used to love writing, now it's a job that I don't feel qualified to do (a ghost of 10, but without the ego and bravado).

I want to love it again.

Jude Hardin said...

To Anon who mentioned Allison Brennan:

Success breeds success. That's the way it works in any business. If you win an award or hit one of the bestseller lists, of course you're going to get more attention than you did back when you were struggling. I don't think that makes the people giving the attention "success whores."

And the word "wretch" is a noun, by the way. What you meant was "retch."

Rob Gregory Browne said...

Maybe I'm too new at this game -- one of the 99% who isn't good enough :) -- but I don't find many things on this list that I agree with.

Of course, you covered your ground when you said we never ADMIT to any of them...

Since I signed with St. Martin's, life has been nothing but great and few of these things seem to apply. Hopefully, the honeymoon won't be over anytime soon. :)

Anonymous said...

"Bragging, boasting, and implying worthiness is annoying.

Enthusiasm, however, is refreshing. "

I’m talking about pipe-dream enthusiasm, and what I should have added was, temper the enthusiasm until you find out what it REALLY means to be published and all the highs and unavoidable lows that come with it. Because there is nothing more depressing than the pre-published bright eyed writer, who turns into a post-published, bitter, disgruntled chain of complaints. For 95%, the honeymoon will come to an end. Doesn’t mean the marriage is over, just that you and your publisher find out the other one isn’t perfect. Approach becoming published like an illiterate Baptist preacher approaches the Good Book....with fear and faith.

Anonymous said...

I’m talking about pipe-dream enthusiasm, and what I should have added was, temper the enthusiasm until you find out what it REALLY means to be published and all the highs and unavoidable lows that come with it. Because there is nothing more depressing than the pre-published bright eyed writer, who turns into a post-published, bitter, disgruntled chain of complaints. For 95%, the honeymoon will come to an end. Doesn’t mean the marriage is over, just that you and your publisher find out the other one isn’t perfect. Approach becoming published like an illiterate Baptist preacher approaches the Good Book....with fear and faith.

Anonymous said...

Damn double posting. Sorry...the blogging equivalent of publicly breaking wind.

Bernita said...

Did you encounter "dirty tricks" Before you were published, Joe?

HawkOwl said...

I'm not even a writer and I totally agree with #5 and #12. And another thing I don't like about the writing racket is that it's really easy to find a mediocre (or worse) writer who will dole out lots of free advice to worse writers than him/herself, but not that easy finding a really good writer doing that. (This is not a dig at you, Joe.) :)

Meanwhile, the number of things I love about MY job is close to 150 right now. :)

Cynthia E. Bagley said...

Oh, oh... LOL This post could also apply to poets. ROFL

Fran said...

...Joe, yep--some of your points apply to me, though most of them probably don't. But I've gotta say that your points have reminded me of why I often hate writing, which probably wasn't your intention!

To the Anonymous who mentioned "success leeches"--I call them Fair-Weather Fans. And I don't like them either....

Mark Pettus said...

I know a guy whose book made #13 on the NYT, and I honestly don't like him. I won't tell him that, but only because his book isn't as good as mine and I don't want to hurt his feelings.

As for #12 - I thought I was just an arrogant prick. I was either wrong, or you're an arrogant prick, too.

JA Konrath said...

I was either wrong, or you're an arrogant prick, too.

That goes without saying...